Sir John Major on Tuesday condemned the Government for its cut to the foreign aid budget at the same time it is planning to purchase a national yacht. 

Sir John became the second former prime minister to criticise the Government over the move as Theresa May voted against a three-line Conservative whip for the first time in 25 years. 

Boris Johnson defeated Conservative rebels, led by Mrs May and Andrew Mitchell, who attempted to reverse the cut from 0.7 per cent to 0.5 per cent.

Twenty-four Tory rebels voted against Mr Johnson, but fell short of the 42 votes needed to overturn his majority and cancel the cut in next year’s Budget.

Both veteran Tories attempted to draw colleagues to support their rebellion, which was Mr Mitchell’s third vote against his party since 1987.

Ministers say the cut, from 0.7 per cent to 0.5 per cent of gross national income, is required to help offset a budget deficit created by spending on Covid support measures.

But opponents argue that the 0.7 per cent figure was a Conservative manifesto promise at the 2019 election, and compare the £4 billion saving to a total Covid spend of around 100 times that amount.

On Monday night, the Government offered the rebels a double-lock "compromise" that would see the budget returned to its pre-pandemic level when the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) confirmed that ministers were no longer borrowing to fund day-to-day spending and when public sector net debt was falling as a percentage of GDP.

Fourteen potential Tory rebels signed an open letter informing the Government that the compromise was enough to secure their votes, but Mr Mitchell warned his colleagues not to accept a "fiscal trap for the unwary".

"It is, frankly, staggering that the only cut the Government has made is to spending to help the poorest people on the planet in the middle of a pandemic, when this amounts to approximately one per cent of the borrowing on Covid in the last year," he said.

Mrs May, who met the 0.7 per cent commitment during her Downing Street tenure, accused the Government of "turning its back on some of the poorest in the world".

Theresa May said the cut meant 'more of the poorest people in the world will die'

Credit: Jessica Taylor/AFP

"This isn’t about palaces for dictators and vanity projects, it’s about what cuts to funding mean – that fewer girls will be educated, more girls and boys will become slaves, more children will go hungry and more of the poorest people in the world will die," she said.

Sarah Champion, who chairs the international development committee, said the cut could continue "indefinitely" as the conditions set by Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, had only been met once in the past eight years.

Tom Tugendhat, the Tory chairman of Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, confirmed he would vote against the cut, arguing that it "costs more and delivers less, it’s frankly inefficient, it’s an error and it undermines our capability".

The Conservative rebels voted with Labour to form a bloc of 298 MPs to the Government’s 333 – giving Mr Johnson a majority of 35 votes.

Damien Green, a former deputy prime minister, suggested Tory MPs had been offered jobs in government if they agreed to vote with Downing Street on the motion – a claim described as "codswallop" by one who agreed to support it.

Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, pointed to a line of former prime ministers who opposed the cut. Indicating Mr Johnson across the floor of the Commons, he said: "There is only one prime minister who is prepared to do this, and he is sitting there."

Closing the debate for the Government, Mr Sunak said: "Whilst not every member felt able to vote for the Government’s compromise, the substantive matter of whether we remain committed to the 0.7 per cent target – not just now but for decades to come – is clearly a point of significant unity in this House.

"Today’s vote has made that commitment more secure for the long-term whilst helping the Government to fix the problems with our public finances and continue to deliver for our constituents today."

Bond, a consortium of aid charities, called the outcome of the vote a "death-knell for the Government’s ‘Global Britain’ agenda".

A spokesman for Oxfam said the decision was "a disaster for the world’s poorest people" and accused ministers of "undermining the UK’s credibility on the international stage", while CAFOD, the Catholic aid charity, said the cut was "beyond despicable" and the Government’s fiscal justification "fatuous".

A spokesman for Save the Children said: "MPs have endorsed a proposal that will almost certainly mean the 0.7 per cent commitment does not return for this Parliament, and cuts to aid will be indefinite. Children will die as a result."